A substantial or prolonged decline in oil or natural gas prices would have a material adverse effect on us.

Historically, the prices of oil and natural gas have fluctuated greatly in response to changes in many factors. We do not and will not have control over the risk factors that affect the prices of oil and natural gas. These factors include:

  • global and regional economic and political developments in resource-producing regions, particularly in the Middle East and South America;
  • global and regional supply and demand;
  • the ability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and other producing nations to influence global production levels and prices;
  • prices of alternative fuels that affect the prices realised under our long-term gas sales contracts;
  • government regulations and actions;
  • global economic conditions;
  • war or other international conflicts;
  • changes in population growth and consumer preferences;
  • the price and availability of new technology; and
  • weather conditions.

It is impossible to predict future price movements for oil and natural gas with certainty. A prolonged decline in oil and natural gas prices will adversely affect our business, the results of our operations, our financial condition, our liquidity and our ability to finance planned capital expenditure. In addition to the adverse effect on revenues, margins and profitability from any fall in oil and natural gas prices, a prolonged period of low prices or other indicators could lead to further reviews for impairment of the group's oil and natural gas properties. Such reviews would reflect the management's view of long-term oil and natural gas prices and could result in a charge for impairment that could have a significant effect on the results of our operations in the period in which it occurs. Rapid material and/or sustained reductions in oil, gas and product prices can have an impact on the validity of the assumptions on which strategic decisions are based and can have an impact on the economic viability of projects that are planned or in development. For an analysis of the impact of changes in oil and gas prices on net operating income, see Risk Review.

Exploratory drilling involves numerous risks, including the risk that we will encounter no commercially productive oil or natural gas reservoirs. This could materially adversely affect our results.

We are exploring or considering exploring in various geographical areas such as the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea, the deepwater US Gulf of Mexico, Azerbaijan, Canada, Egypt, Indonesia, UK, Tanzania, Algeria, Cuba, Faeroes, Angola, Mozambique and Brazil. In some of these countries, environmental conditions are challenging and costs can be high. In addition, our use of advanced technologies requires greater pre-drilling expenditure than traditional drilling strategies. The cost of drilling, completing and operating wells is often uncertain. As a result, we may experience cost overruns or may be required to curtail, delay or cancel drilling operations because of a variety of factors, including equipment failures, changes in government requirements, unexpected drilling conditions, pressure or irregularities in geological formations, adverse weather conditions and shortages of or delays in the availability of drilling rigs and the delivery of equipment. For example, we have entered into long-term leases for drilling rigs that may turn out not to be required for the operations for which they were originally intended, and we cannot be certain that these rigs will be re-employed or at what rates they will be re-employed. Fluctuations in the market for leases of drilling rigs will also have an impact on the rates we can charge for re-employing these rigs. Our overall drilling activity or drilling activity within a particular project area may be unsuccessful. Such failure will have a material adverse effect on the results of our operations and financial condition.

We are exposed to a wide range of health, safety, security and environmental risks that could result in significant losses.

Exploration for, and the production, processing and transportation of oil and natural gas - including shale gas - could be hazardous, and technical integrity failure, operator error, natural disasters or other occurrences can result, among other things, in oil spills, gas leaks, loss of containment of hazardous materials, water fracturing, blowouts, cratering, fires, equipment failure and loss of well control. The risks associated with exploration for and the production, processing and transportation of oil and natural gas are heightened in the difficult geographies, climate zones and environmentally sensitive regions in which we operate. The effects of climate change could result in less stable weather patterns, resulting in more severe storms and other weather conditions that could interfere with our operations and damage our facilities. All modes of transportation of hydrocarbons - including by road, rail, sea or pipeline - are particularly susceptible to a loss of containment of hydrocarbons and other hazardous materials, and, given the high volumes involved, could be a significant risk to people and the environment. Offshore operations are subject to marine perils, including severe storms and other adverse weather conditions and vessel collisions, as well as interruptions, restrictions or termination by government authorities based on safety, environmental and other considerations. Acts of terrorism against our plants and offices, pipelines, transportation or computer systems or breaches of our security system could severely disrupt businesses and operations and could cause harm to people. Failure to manage the foregoing risks could result in injury or loss of life, damage to the environment, damage to or the destruction of wells and production facilities, pipelines and other property and could result in regulatory action, legal liability, damage to our reputation, a significant reduction in our revenues and an increase in our costs, and could have a material adverse effect on our operations or financial condition.

Our crisis management systems may be ineffective.

For our most important activities we have developed contingency plans to continue or recover operations following a disruption or incident. An inability to restore or replace critical capacity to an agreed level within an agreed time frame could prolong the impact of any disruption and could severely affect our business and operations. Likewise, we have crisis management plans and capability to deal with emergencies at every level of our operations. If we do not respond or are not seen to respond in an appropriate manner to either an external or internal crisis, our business and operations could be severely disrupted.

If we fail to acquire or find and develop additional reserves, our reserves and production will decline materially from their current levels.

The majority of our proven reserves are on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), a maturing resource province. Unless we conduct successful exploration and development activities and/or acquire properties containing proved reserves, our proved reserves will decline as reserves are produced. Successful implementation of our group strategy is critically dependent on sustaining long-term reserves replacement. If upstream resources are not progressed to proved reserves in a timely and efficient manner, we will be unable to sustain the long-term replacement of reserves. In addition, the volume of production from oil and natural gas properties generally declines as reserves are depleted. For example, some of our major fields, such as Gullfaks, are dependent on satellite fields to maintain production and, unless efforts to improve the development of satellite fields are successful, production will gradually decline.

In a number of resource-rich countries, national oil companies control a significant proportion of oil and gas reserves that remain to be developed. To the extent that national oil companies choose to develop their oil and gas resources without the participation of international oil companies or if we are unable to develop partnerships with national oil companies, our ability to find and acquire or develop additional reserves will be limited.

Our future production is highly dependent on our succeeding in finding or acquiring and developing additional reserves. If we are unsuccessful, we may not meet our long-term ambitions for growth in production, and our future total proved reserves and production will decline, adversely affecting the results of our operations and financial condition.

We encounter competition from other oil and natural gas companies in all areas of our operations, including the acquisition of licences, exploratory prospects and producing properties.

The oil and gas industry is extremely competitive, especially with regard to exploration for - and the exploitation and development of - new sources of oil and natural gas.

Some of our competitors are much larger, well-established companies with substantially greater resources. In many instances, they have been engaged in the oil and gas business for much longer than we have. These larger companies are developing strong market power through a combination of different factors, including:


  • diversification and the reduction of risk;
  • the financial strength necessary for capital-intensive developments;
  • exploitation of benefits of integration;
  • exploitation of economies of scale in technology and organisation;
  • exploitation of advantages in terms of expertise, industrial infrastructure and reserves; and
  • strengthening of positions as global players.

These companies may be able to pay more for exploratory prospects and productive oil and natural gas properties and may be able to define, evaluate, bid for and purchase a greater number of properties and prospects, including operatorships and licences. They may also be able to invest more in developing technology than our financial or human resources permit. Our performance could be impeded if competitors were to develop or acquire intellectual property rights to technology that we require or if our innovation were to lag behind the industry. For more information on the competitive environment, see Operational Review.

Our development projects and production activities involve many uncertainties and operating risks that can prevent us from realising profits and cause substantial losses.

Our development projects and production activities may be curtailed, delayed or cancelled for many reasons, including equipment shortages or failures, natural hazards, unexpected drilling conditions or reservoir characteristics, pressure or irregularities in geological formations, accidents, mechanical and technical difficulties and industrial action. These projects and activities will also often require the use of new and advanced technologies, which may be expensive to develop, purchase and implement, and may not function as expected. In addition, some of our developments will be located in deep waters or other hostile environments, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Barents Sea, or may be in challenging reservoirs, which can exacerbate such problems. There is a risk that development projects that we undertake may not yield adequate returns.

Our development projects and production activities on the NCS also face the challenge of remaining profitable. We are increasingly developing smaller satellite fields in mature areas, and our activities are subject to the Norwegian State's relatively high taxes on offshore activities. In addition, our development projects and production activities, particularly those in remote areas, could become less profitable, or unprofitable, if we experience a prolonged period of low oil or gas prices or cost overruns.

We face challenges in achieving our strategic objective of successfully exploiting growth opportunities.

An important element of our strategy is to continue to pursue attractive and profitable growth opportunities available to us, by both enhancing and repositioning our asset portfolio and expanding into new markets. The opportunities that we are actively pursuing may involve the acquisition of businesses or properties that complement or expand our existing portfolio. The challenges to renewal of our upstream portfolio are growing due to increasing global competition for access to opportunities.

Our ability to successfully implement this strategy will depend on a variety of factors, including our ability to:

  • identify acceptable opportunities;
  • negotiate favourable terms;
  • develop new market opportunities or acquire properties or businesses promptly and profitably;
  • integrate acquired properties or businesses into our operations;
  • arrange financing, if necessary; and
  • comply with legal regulations.

As we pursue business opportunities in new and existing markets, we anticipate significant investments and costs in connection with the development of such opportunities. We may incur or assume unanticipated liabilities, losses or costs associated with assets or businesses acquired. Any failure by us to successfully pursue and exploit new business opportunities could result in financial losses and inhibit growth.

Any such new projects we acquire will require additional capital expenditure and will increase the cost of our discoveries and development. These projects may also have different risk profiles than our existing portfolio. These and other effects of such acquisitions could result in our having to revise either or both of our forecasts with respect to unit production costs and production.

In addition, the pursuit of acquisitions or new business opportunities could divert financial and management resources away from our day-to-day operations to the integration of acquired operations or properties. We may require additional debt or equity financing to undertake or consummate future acquisitions or projects, and such financing may not be available on terms satisfactory to us, if at all, and it may, in the case of equity, be dilutive to our earnings per share.

The sovereign debt situation in Europe may affect our business.

The European gas market is currently our major market for gas sales. The European sovereign debt crisis has created significant uncertainty and could lead to increased counterparty credit risk. In addition, the eurozone crisis could lead to a prolonged recession in Europe resulting in reduced natural gas demand and lower natural gas prices, which could adversely affect the results of our operations and financial condition.

We may fail to attract and retain senior management and skilled personnel.

The attraction and retention of senior management and skilled personnel is a critical factor in the successful implementation of our strategy as an international oil and gas group. We may not always be successful in hiring or retaining suitable senior management and skilled personnel. Failure to recruit or retain senior management and skilled personnel or to more generally maintain good employee relations could compromise the achievement of our strategy. Such failure could cause disruption to our management structure and relationships, an increase in costs associated with staff replacement, lost business relationships or reputational damage. An inability to attract or retain suitable employees could have a significant adverse impact on our ability to operate.

We face challenges in the renewable energy sector.

Although energy production from renewables is currently modest in most countries, wind power, solar energy and biofuels are developing into significant industries. We cannot predict the demand for renewables. We believe that technological innovation and the integration of trend-breaking technologies, such as biotechnology and other new ideas, are key to advancing in the renewable energy sector and ensuring a profitable, sustainable, low-carbon energy future. Some of our competitors may be able to invest more in developing technology in the renewable energy sector than we do. Our performance in the renewable energy sector could be impeded if competitors develop or acquire intellectual property rights to technology that we require or if our innovation lags behind the industry. In addition, projects in renewable energy involve emerging technologies, evolving manufacturing techniques and/or cutting-edge implementation. There is little precedent for incorporating certain renewable aspects into new or existing projects.

We may not be able to produce some of our oil and gas economically due to the lack of necessary transportation infrastructure when a field is in a remote location.

Our ability to exploit economically any discovered petroleum resources beyond our proved reserves will depend, among other factors, on the availability of the infrastructure required to transport oil and gas to potential buyers at a commercially acceptable price. Oil is usually transported by tankers to refineries, and natural gas is usually transported by pipeline to processing plants and end users. We may not be successful in our efforts to secure transportation and markets for all of our potential production.

Some of our international interests are located in politically, economically and socially unstable areas, which could disrupt our operations.

We have assets located in politically, economically and socially unstable regions around the world where threats such as war, terrorism, border disputes, guerrilla activities, expropriation, nationalisation of property, civil strife, strikes, political unrest and insurrections are present. These threats, or some of them, may impact on our activities in regions such as the Middle East, North Africa, the Caspian and countries such as Nigeria, Angola and Venezuela. The occurrence of incidents resulting from political, economic or social instability could disrupt our operations and further business opportunities in any of these regions and lead to a decline in production. This could have a material adverse effect on the results of our operations and financial condition.

Our operations are subject to political and legal factors in the countries in which we operate.

We have assets in a number of countries with emerging or transitioning economies that lack well-established and reliable legal systems, where the enforcement of contractual rights is uncertain or where the governmental and regulatory framework is subject to unexpected change. Our exploration and production activities in these countries are often undertaken together with national oil companies and are subject to a significant degree of state control. In recent years, governments and national oil companies in some regions have begun to exercise greater authority and impose more stringent conditions on companies engaged in exploration and production activities. We expect this trend to continue. Intervention by governments in such countries can take a wide variety of forms, including:

  • restrictions on exploration, production, imports and exports;
  • the awarding or denial of exploration and production interests;
  • the imposition of specific seismic and/or drilling obligations;
  • price controls;
  • tax or royalty increases, including retroactive claims;
  • nationalisation or expropriation of our assets;
  • unilateral cancellation or modification of our licence or contractual rights;
  • the renegotiation of contracts;
  • payment delays; and
  • currency exchange restrictions or currency devaluation.

The likelihood of these occurrences and their overall effect on us vary greatly from country to country and are not predictable. If such risks materialise, they could cause us to incur material costs and/or cause our production to decrease, potentially having a material adverse effect on our operations or financial condition.

Due to the outbreak of political unrest in Libya in February 2011, the USA, UN, EU and several countries implemented certain sanctions, and Statoil's Libyan operations were suspended. While the sanctions on Libya were largely lifted by the end of 2011 and our production in Libya is resuming, the future impact of the unrest and potential political changes is uncertain.

Our activities in certain countries could lead to US and other sanctions.

Certain countries, including Iran and Cuba, have been identified by the US State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. In October 2002, we signed a participation agreement with Petropars of Iran, pursuant to which we assumed the operatorship for the offshore part of phases 6-7-8 of the South Pars gas development project in the Persian Gulf. In total, Statoil's estimated capital expenditures for the offshore development of South Pars phases 6-7-8 is USD 746 million. Final settlement with the partner on the sharing of parts of the capital expenditures may lead to an adjustment of Statoil's final investment amount. Adjusted for an impairment in 2005, a partial reversal of impairment in 2009 and cumulative depreciation charges, the net book value was USD 91 million at year-end 2011. In addition, as a result of the merger with Norsk Hydro's oil and gas business, Statoil owns a 75% interest in the Anaran Block in Iran, which was acquired by Norsk Hydro in 2000. Following the commerciality declaration of the Azar discovery in the Anaran Block in August 2006, Norsk Hydro agreed to conduct negotiations with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) for a master development plan and a development service contract. Statoil had invested USD 104 million in the project, but this amount has been fully written off following an impairment review in 2008. Work on this project was stopped in 2008 and in September 2011 Statoil signed a settlement agreement to close the exploration service contract. Also as a result of the merger with Norsk Hydro's oil and gas business, Statoil now owns a 100% interest in the Khorramabad exploration block, for which Statoil is the operator. In September 2006, Norsk Hydro signed the Khorramabad exploration and development contract with the NIOC, with a total commitment of USD 49.5 million over four years relating to seismic surveys and other exploration activities. We completed the gathering of seismic data in the Khorramabad exploration block in the fourth quarter of 2008. The license expired in November 2010 and Statoil agreed to settle the unexpended minimum commitment. Statoil will not make any future investments in Iran under the present circumstances, but it is committed to fulfilling its contractual obligations. In addition, Statoil has an interest in the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan, in which Naftiran Intertrade Co. Ltd. (NICO) has a 10% interest. The Shah Deniz field is operating in full compliance with current US and EU sanctions. See Operational Review for more information.

On 30 September 2010, the US State Department announced that Statoil was eligible to avoid sanctions under the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010 (CISADA) relating to its activities in Iran because Statoil had pledged to end its investments in Iran's energy sector. In 2009, Statoil had voluntarily provided officials from the US State Department with information about its activities and investments in Iran. CISADA came into effect on 1 July 2010. Among other things, CISADA amends certain sections of the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA). CISADA requires the President of the United States to sanction companies that make investments that enhance Iran's ability to develop petroleum resources or provide or facilitate the production or importation of refined petroleum products into Iran. Such sanctions could include prohibiting transactions in foreign exchange in which the sanctioned entity has any interest, prohibiting transfers of credit or payments via financial institutions in which the sanctioned entity has any interest, prohibiting property transactions by the sanctioned entity in which the property is subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, the denial of US bank loans,and restrictions on the importation of goods produced by the sanctioned company.

In 2010, the UN and the EU adopted new restrictive measures in relation to Iran. With effect from 14 January 2011, Norway adopted similar regulations. These restrictive measures cover the areas of trade, financial services, energy and transport, as well as additional measures relating to visa bans and asset freezes. In 2011, the US imposed additional sanctions against Iran, including restrictions on transactions with the Central Bank of Iran and lower monetary thresholds for permitted investments in Iran that could contribute to Iran's development of petroleum resources or production of petrochemical products. There is further legislation pending in the US Congress, and additional sanctions may be enacted against Iran. In January 2012, the EU imposed a ban on Iranian origin crude, among other measures, to be phased in over a period of months.

Our activities in Cuba consist of a 30% interest in six deepwater exploration blocks acquired from operator Repsol-YPF in 2006. As of 31 December 2011, we had invested USD 12.5 million in these projects. These activities are not material to our business, financial condition or results of operations, as the total amount invested in these operations represented less than 0.02% of our total assets as of 31 December 2011. While Statoil prequalified to become an operator in Cuba in the first quarter of 2011, this did not led to increased exposure in 2011.

We are also aware of initiatives by certain US states and US institutional investors, such as pension funds, to adopt or consider adopting laws, regulations or policies requiring among other things divestment from, reporting of interests in, or agreeing not to make future investments in, companies that do business with countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism. These policies could have an adverse impact on investment by certain investors in our securities.

We are exposed to potentially adverse changes in the tax regimes of each jurisdiction in which we operate.

We have business operations in 41 countries around the world, and any of these countries could modify its tax laws in ways that would adversely affect us. Most of our operations are subject to changes in tax regimes in a similar manner to other companies in our industry. In addition, in the long term, the marginal tax rate in the oil and gas industry tends to change with the price of crude oil. Significant changes in the tax regimes of countries in which we operate could have a material adverse affect on our liquidity and the results of our operations.

Our insurance coverage may not adequately protect us.

Statoil maintains insurance coverage that includes coverage for physical damage to our oil and gas properties, third-party liability, workers' compensation and employers' liability, general liability, sudden pollution and other coverage. Our insurance coverage includes deductibles that must be met prior to recovery. In addition, our insurance is subject to caps, exclusions and limitations, and there is no assurance that such coverage will adequately protect us against liability from all potential consequences and damages.

In light of the incident at the BP-operated Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, we may not be able to secure similar coverage for the same costs. Future insurance coverage for our industry could increase in cost and may include higher deductibles or retentions. In addition, some forms of insurance may become unavailable in the future or unavailable on terms that we believe are economically acceptable.

We face foreign exchange risks that could adversely affect the results of our operations.

Our business faces foreign exchange risks because a large percentage of our revenues and cash receipts are denominated in USD, while sales of gas and refined products can be in a variety of currencies, and we pay dividends and a large part of our taxes in NOK. Fluctuations between the USD and other currencies may adversely affect our business and can give rise to foreign exchange exposures, with a consequent impact on underlying costs and revenues. See Risk review - Risk management - Managing financial risk - Market risk.

We are exposed to risks relating to trading and supply activities.

Statoil is engaged in substantial trading and commercial activities in the physical markets. We also use financial instruments such as futures, options, over-the-counter (OTC) forward contracts, market swaps and contracts for differences related to crude oil, petroleum products, natural gas and electricity in order to manage price volatility. We also use financial instruments to manage foreign exchange and interest rate risk.

Although we believe we have established appropriate risk management procedures, trading activities involve elements of forecasting and Statoil bears the risk of market movements, the risk of significant losses if prices develop contrary to expectations, and the risk of default by counterparties. See Risk review for more information about risk management. Any of these risks could have an adverse effect on the results of our operations and financial condition.

Failure to meet our ethical and social standards could harm our reputation and our business.

Our code of conduct, which applies to all employees of the group - including hired personnel, consultants, intermediaries, lobbyists and others who act on our behalf - defines our commitment to high ethical standards and compliance with applicable legal requirements wherever we operate. Incidents of ethical misconduct or non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations could be damaging to our reputation, competitiveness and shareholder value. Multiple events of non-compliance could call into question the integrity of our operations.

We set ourselves high standards of corporate citizenship and aspire to contribute to a better qualify of life through the products and services we provide. If it is perceived that we are not respecting or advancing the economic and social progress of the communities in which we operate, our reputation and shareholder value could be damaged.

The crude oil and natural gas reserve data in this annual report are only estimates, and our future production, revenues and expenditures with respect to our reserves may differ materially from these estimates.

The reliability of proved reserve estimates depends on:

  • the quality and quantity of our geological, technical and economic data;
  • whether the prevailing tax rules and other government regulations, contracts and oil, gas and other prices will remain the same as on the date estimates are made;

 

  • the production performance of our reservoirs; and
  • extensive engineering judgments.

Many of the factors, assumptions and variables involved in estimating reserves are beyond our control and may prove to be incorrect over time. The results of drilling, testing and production after the date of the estimates may require substantial upward or downward revisions in our reserve data. In addition, fluctuations in oil and gas prices will have an impact on our proven reserves relating to fields governed by production sharing agreements (PSAs), since part of our entitlement under PSAs relates to the recovery of development costs. Any downward adjustment could lead to lower future production and thus adversely affect our financial condition, future prospects and market value.